The present and future of U18 curling battle in Fort Frances
by Randy Pascal
It would take exactly one draw at the NOCA U-18 Provincial Championships in Fort Frances for the field to realize just how quickly the next wave
of Sudbury female curling talent is closing the gap.
With three 13 year olds and a 12 year old, Team Toner (Mia Toner, Valerie Ouimet, Emilie Glabb, Justine Toner) are easily the youngest foursome
of the eight rinks vying for a shot at nationals in Sherwood Park (Alberta) next month.
They give up, more or less, three to four years, both in age and curling experience, right across the roster, to the bulk of the field, and certainly
their very first adversary at provincials, the Bella Croisier rink (Bella Croisier, Jamie Smith, Piper Croisier, Lauren Rajala).
Did we mention that the Croisier Idylwylde Golf & Country Club quartet are fresh off winning gold medals at the 2019 Canada Winter Games
in Red Deer, with their skip selected as Team Ontario flag bearer for the Closing Ceremonies.
If you have followed this curling column at all this winter, you are already well-versed in the impressive resumé that Croisier and company have
compiled in their still young curling careers. And yet it was the pre-event favourite that would need to take two, with the hammer, in the final end, in
order to edge out Team Toner 6-5 in the opening draw Thursday morning.
While the Toner team of teens and one non-teen are sitting at 1-3 going into play Friday night, it should be noted that all three setbacks have come by
the identical score of 6-5. “I think this is like an experience, but we want to keep the games at least close and not get blown out,” suggested vice Valerie
Ouimet at practice last week, before flying off to Thunder Bay.
Yep – checking that one off the list of goals in pretty emphatic fashion so far.
What is perhaps even more impressive is the fact that this team is only just completing their first year of curling together. “We had talked about how
it might be cool to start doing bigger events, because we were doing well in the U15 bonspiels and elementary school bonspiels and stuff like that,” said
Mia Toner, skip of the Curl Sudbury quartet.
“We had known that on Val's team, not everyone was going to continue curling.” Mind you, adding Ouimet to the already familiar trio wasn't much of a
leap of faith. The respective fathers, Lee Toner and Luc Ouimet, are long-time curling partners, most recently on the Jordan Chandler
men's competitive rink. In fact, Toner is currently attending the Brier, picked up as the alternate by the Brad Jacobs powerhouse out of Sault Ste
These are kids who have been ingrained in a curling environment, almost since day one. “I was curling in mini rocks since first grade, when I was six or
seven years old, but I have a picture of me on the ice when I was a year and a half old, just pushing rocks around with my dad,” said Mia.
While bringing Ouimet into the fold this year was something of a no-brainer, it goes without saying that there would be some time needed to develop that
all important chemistry and effective communication between skip and vice.
“I might give her a shot that I like to play and then she (Mia) would think it out – what are we leaving them, is that the right shot – and then we
would talk it out,” explained Ouimet. “But with time clocks, we can't talk too long.”
It doesn't hurt that Toner, Glabb and Toner all curl together within the elementary ranks, part of the St Pierre team that has enjoyed success in
recent years, while Ouimet attends Ste Marie in Azilda. “I've known two of them for a long time, and I met Val last year and she's really nice,”
said Glabb. “I feel like now, we're a lot closer, better friends. That helps, because we can talk about different stuff.”
Though the entire rink is fluently bilingual, they have opted to stick to english while on the ice, a lesson they learned the hard way. “Sometimes, if
Mia decides to call line using french words, it will sound like english words that are different, and then we're not sure what to do,” explained younger
sister Justine, the 12 year old in the clan.
“One time, she said “fort” (the french word for hard) and we thought she said “off”.”
These up and comers, of course, do not have to look far to find some pretty special role models at the curling club off Howey Drive. Curl Sudbury
added another provincial banner to the mix last weekend when club manager Tom Leonard teamed with Kira Brunton to capture the Northern
Ontario Mixed Doubles Championship, earning a trip to Fredericton in just over a week's time.
With this new variation of curling launched in a competitive manner only in the past decade or so, curlers are still in the sorting out process of
roster construction, as Leonard explained. “In my case, it was just pure luck that Kira agreed to play with me,” he said.
“But if I was putting together a mixed doubles team from scratch, I think you would want a combination of a couple of personalities that work really
well together, and a pairing where both players can make most of their shots, regardless of where in the lineup they play on their respective teams.”
“Her natural ability and her talent was a big key for us,” Leonard added. “My calmness and demeanour was helpful too. She's a good rock thrower and
she's a smart player, and I'm somewhat smart and I throw the rock OK.”
The mixed doubles game does take a little getting used to. One player throws the first and last stones, and the partner throws rocks two, three and
four, with each teams placing a stationery rock in play prior to the commencement of each end. Teams can opt to have both players sweep every single stone,
and a curler need not be in the house, manning the broom as a target, on every shot.
“At the end of the day, it's still curling,” summarized Leonard. “It's still about taking two with the hammer and giving up one without the hammer. The
end goal of each end is still the same.”
And that end goal is one that the likes of Leonard and Brunton, and Team Toner and Team Croisier, and many, many more Sudbury curlers, seem to achieve
with incredible consistency.